Word is surfacing that the USGA is very close to announcing some sort of ban on anchored putting strokes – in other words, long and belly putters that are held against the body in some fashion to lessen the possibility of a wobbly stroke.
This is really the biggest issue facing golf today? This is the legal battle for which the USGA is willing to put up its $250 million war chest?
During the past 30 years in which the long putter has been in existence, and used by increasing numbers of players at all levels of the game, red-hot golf balls and space-age golf clubs have forced golf courses to add hundreds of yards of length in order to remain relevant in the modern game. The USGA has made a show of fighting the distance issue, but equipment companies continue to increase the cost of the game.
But the USGA apparently has decided to draw its line in the sand over long and belly putters, which have not made any courses obsolete, nor have they even been statistically proven to lower scores.
A year ago, USGA Executive director Mike Davis said the organization was not intent on banning anchored putting strokes, despite the increasing popularity of such methods: “We don’t want to react to trends,” Davis said. “There is no data to suggest this method of making the stroke is causing harm to the game or giving anyone an advantage. We readily admit it does help some players, but do we take it out of the game for the masses?”
No one outside of USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., knows the answer to that question, but we do know some prominent players who would be only too happy to answer yes – including Tiger Woods.
When asked on Oct. 17 if he was in favor of a total ban on anchored putting strokes, Woods said, “I believe it should be the game across the board. I think it should be a global rules change.”
Former U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell agrees with Woods, even though he can’t point to any statistical advantage for long putters. For him, it seems to be an issue of style and tradition.
“I welcome [a ban],” he said at the 2012 PGA Championship. “Putting is such a big part of the game that let’s level the playing field again. Let’s get everyone with a short putter back in the bag as the game is meant to be played.”
Perhaps the game was also meant to be played with cleeks, lofters and mashie-niblicks. And perhaps the soul-crushing putting yips that drove so many players to anchored putting strokes were meant to force a percentage of people out of the game entirely. Three of the past five major champions – Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els – used long or belly putters, but golf fans will also recall that Adam Scott – another user of the long putter – handed the British Open to Els when he missed several short putts on the final nine holes.
Only three of the top 20 players in the PGA Tour’s strokes-gained putting category use anchored putting strokes. None of the players in the top ten do.
Yes, the anchored method is becoming more popular. Yes, you are seeing more pros win tournaments that way. But we have also seen the likes of Vijay Singh and Tom Lehman switch back and forth, discovering that no one style is a panacea for balking putting.
What is most troubling, however, is the fact that the USGA had the right and the opportunity to ban long putters when they first appeared 30 years ago, and are only now poised to take action when these implements have become an accepted part of the game. That is poor leadership, and the inevitable mess that a ban will cause was utterly avoidable.
It still is, if the USGA will simply accede to reason.